A showdown has been building for the past two weeks. Every morning there is a new layer of defiance, or a slowness to respond to a direction. Maybe the child chooses to take her time getting out of the car on the way home or says things like "you can't tell me, just kidding". For two weeks, I have tried to hold it together, to respond calmly and rationally to the little pin pricks of annoyance, but this morning I lost it. A tantrum about getting ready, a refusal to wear a bathing suit and a string "Ok, Ok, Ok, Ok Juli Ann I hear you!" while I was attempting to speak to her about the choices she was making pushed me over the edge. I was just plain mad.
In a tone that sounded very much like my angry mother coming back across the decades, I let Miss Thing know that she did not speak to me like that, that she would do what I told her, and that I was done with her games. I shouldn't have done it, because there was a part of her that loved it. Up until this point we have refused to engage in this game, but this morning she had co-player and she went for it. I went to the kitchen to get water and calm down. She continued to shout complaints and announcements from her room. When I went back for round two, Justin opened the door and told us all to calm down, and she smiled a little smile and went back to her room.
Now I wasn't just upset and mad at myself and the kid, now I was frustrated at my husband as well. How dare he undermine me like that? He doesn't know what has been going on, and you know what, she never pulls the attitude with him that she pulls with me. What followed was a mini fight between Justin and I, a long period of silence before swim lessons and a child who was waffling between enjoying the situation and clearly not sure about the situation.
When they left for swim lesson, I picked up the phone to call my Mom and tell her what a martyr I was. She listened to the whole story, and told me to grow up and figure it out. Turns out, I am not the only mother who can tell the child how "it is". She didn't abandon me, she did offer to problem solve with me. She told me to pray and she reminded me that I had a pretty amazing husband who was just trying to bring peace to his home. Moms, I didn't want to be one and I didn't know how much I liked having one.
I took a deep breath, had some coffee and took the cat to the vet (ear infection no biggie) and when I came home, I was still cranky. My mother called and suggested I run errands with her and give myself some time to think and process. Moms, always showing up to help when you didn't know you wanted them. So, I went off with my Mom, who bought me lunch and told me a bunch of stories of moments she would take back. The crazy thing is, the fight she really regrets between us (involving me about to be picked up by Sean Mansfield for something and freaking out on her about my crappy clothes that suck and why don't we have money and ending with me not going anywhere for that night or several nights) I didn't really remember until she brought it up. I am sure at the time I was furious and wrote pages in my journal about it, but I had nary a memory until she reminded me.
She told me that it was on a Friday night and she was so tired and stressed about making the mortgage because she was paying for me to go to DC and had bought me a homecoming dress and she felt like I was being ungrateful. Clearly I was ungrateful. In fact, my 33 year old self really wants to go back and slap my 16 year old self. I also felt so awful that my Mom had no one to tag out to. No one was going to open a door and tell her to calm down. No one was going to take the child away and give her time to think.
That is when the neon light of "BAD WIFE!" "UNGRATEFUL WIFE" "FAILURE AS A MOTHER" "YOU WEREN'T MEANT TO HAVE CHILDREN" "EVERYONE CAN DO THIS BETTER THAN YOU CAN" "YOU DON'T DESERVE YOUR FAMILY!" came pouring into my mind. I had lost it. I could never fix it. I sucked. My mother, who has uncanny telepathy, told me to get it together everyone has bad days and what are you going to do about it. Moms, knowing you better than you know yourself and using that knowledge against you.
So, I talked it out with my Mom. I told her how frustrated I was. How every morning was a landmine of whining and cajoling ending with me frustrated and stressed. I told her how I felt like a biological Mom would be better at handling it and how I was afraid that this was a taste of bigger and badder behaviors that I was not equipped to handle. I told her that I don't remember the last time I slept through the night and that my job seems to getting more stressful by the day. I told her that money worry is oppressive and how I feel like I am not doing a good job at any of my jobs. Then my Mom hugged me. Moms, knowing how to make you feel better without having to say anything.
My big solution was to pray. I put all out there to God and asked for help. I realized that my love wasn't enough and I needed something bigger. By the time I got out of church tonight I had a plan and some peace. In conversation with the child I laid it all out. After apologizing for speaking in a "mean" voice, I explained that from here on out I would tell her what time she needed to be ready and expect her to do it. Whatever state she is in at the time we have to leave is the state she will leave in. If that means messy hair and an unmade bed, so be it. I also told her that if she complained about her clothes, I wasn't going to argue. I would simply take those clothes and donate them to a kid who needed them, and she would be responsible for buying new ones.
I also told her I love her, but I knew that she was behaving this way to gain some control and get some attention. I reminded her that she has all of our attention and we will not be rewarding her for her negative actions. She was quiet, but seemed to get it. It will be a challenge. I will struggle to leave the house with a kid with messy hair and not feel like it is a testament to my crappy parenting, but I will persevere, or at least call my Mom for strength. Moms, always there when you need them.